For Agedria Kelly, 24, being able to afford gifts for her children this Christmas has been extremely difficult.

“I’m not working at this time,” she said. “I am pregnant and sick, so I signed up so that my daughters could get gifts.”

The program Kelly signed up for to help her this Christmas is the 36th annual Holiday Program of the Voluntary Action Center, held Thursday and Friday at Woodcrest Chapel.

Bikes, clothings, toys and food lined the hallways and gym of the church on Thursday, ready to be picked up by families who need them the most.

Families who signed up for the program are able to come in and get gifts personalized for them. Anita Williams, who came to pick up gifts for her family, said she welcomes the spirit behind the event.

“It’s a blessing,” she said. “It’s amazing that they have kind people with good hearts.”

Over its 36 years of hosting this program, the VAC has developed a process to help make sure it can serve as many of those in need in the Columbia community.

It all starts with a six-week period when people with children age 18 and under can sign up at the Voluntary Action Center.

At the same time, agency partners are signing up clients for the program.

Once applications are processed, wish lists from families are finalized, and those families are matched with sponsors — churches, businesses, groups of friends or individuals.

This year, the VAC is serving 948 families. The organization works with more than a dozen partner agencies to help families throughout the Columbia area.

VAC Program Coordinator Christy Lowe helps organize, collect and distribute gifts. For her, the program is a way to help families enjoy the holidays.

“It helps those in our community who are struggling this time of year,” she said. “It’s hard enough for a lot of people to get the simple things but also (provide) for their children.”

The program asks volunteers to help distribute items to families. The VAC reaches out through social media, press releases and word of mouth to find volunteers.

One, Donna Murray, has worked with the program for 25 years, after retiring from Truman Veterans Hospital. She said she appreciates that the program has been able to helps nearly 1,000 families provide for themselves.

“Because I have been on the receiving end myself, it makes you realize that you’re helping a lot of people,” she said.

On Thursday, families checked in throughout the day with VAC volunteers. Once their stuff was packed up by volunteers, they drove to the back of the church where volunteers met them to load their gifts into the cars.

Murray said she has witnessed many special moments as a volunteer.

“We had a father who had four children, and he started to break down,” she said. “To see a father cry is rare.”

The program was continues all day Friday, ending at 3 p.m.

Volunteer Mary Patton saids the program is extremely important to her.

“I’ve started volunteering 11 years ago,” she said, “and I haven’t missed a year since.”

Supervising editor is Fred Anklam Jr.

  • Public Health and Safety reporter, fall 2019. Studying magazine journalism. Reach me at pggrm5@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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